Water, knowledge, and the post-industrial landscape

Access full-text files




Selkirk, Kaethe Marie

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In this thesis I study the ways in which Milwaukee, Wisconsin has positioned itself for sustainable water-based economic development. More specifically, I examine the role of local knowledge in decision-making processes between WWII and 2014, and the degree to which past experience has allowed Milwaukee to engage a development strategy that is economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. I argue that Milwaukee has positioned itself for sustainable water-based economic development by learning from past experience. Success and failure has informed decision-making across time, culminating in the city’s ability to generate a sustainable economic strategy using local knowledge and water resources. Historical and empirical methods were used to develop this hypothesis. Strategic research methods, including the content analysis of texts and interviews, allowed me to identify water-specific events and practices that have influenced the city’s social systems and built environment within three distinct eras (1947 – 1967); (1967 – 2000); (2000 – 2014). Water-specific events, practices, and knowledge are framed as logics. Logics associated with each era describe how water is conceptualized at a specific point in time, while revealing the values and reasoning behind water-related decision-making at the municipal level. Strategic analysis shows that Milwaukee’s conceptualization of water is dynamic and malleable. Changes occur in tandem with, or in response to new conditions. My research results in an understanding of how Milwaukee has positioned itself for sustainable water-based economic development and how successful those efforts have been. This understanding highlights two key findings: (1) Milwaukee’s water practices as related to economic growth, and how those have changed across space and time; and (2) Milwaukee’s interpretation of water resource abundance today. A primary conclusion is that the ways in which Milwaukee has positioned itself stem directly from incorporating local knowledge into decision-making. However, the city has not yet learned how social equity is a necessary dimension of sustainable development.


LCSH Subject Headings